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Interview with Richard Spillman

Richard Spillman knows you can’t win contests if you don’t enter, and while sliding in just under the deadline might not be the right path for everyone, it worked for him! His just-released novel The Awakened was a semi-finalist in the Genesis contest a few years ago, and if he hadn’t felt a prompting on the last day entries were accepted, who knows how his path would have differed? Read on to find out more about the first book in speculative fiction author’s forthcoming series and how the book came to be.

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How did you get into writing speculative fiction? What are the high and low points of writing a thriller for the Christian market?
It had always been my dream to write a novel, but as a Computer Science and Engineering professor I was always too busy keeping up with my field, publishing research and preparing class notes. When I retired, I decided it was time and I’ve never looked back.

There were (and continue to be) so many highs on this journey. From seeing my ideas taking shape on the page, to all the new friends I’ve made, there was always something to enjoy. The low points I experience are, I guess, common to all authors. The rejection that came with trying to interest others in my work took its toll. Some days I wondered if I was just fooling myself thinking I was a writer. But rejection is something we all face, and if you handle it well, you grow.

Why Lazarus' story? What captures your imagination about his experience with the Lord?
There is a verse in Hebrews that says man only dies once. So, here is Lazarus, the most well-known of those Jesus raised from the dead. I had to ask myself, "Did he not die a second time?" If he didn’t, the next question was, "What would he be doing today?" The answer to that question became the plot of The Awakened.

Since it's contest season for ACFW, tell us about your experience with the Genesis contest. What was valuable to you as an author in entering the contest? How did it help your manuscript? What part did it play on your path to publication? And what advice would you give to other authors about entering ACFW's contests?
When I submitted The Awakened to the Genesis contest, I really didn’t understand what the process was all about. I didn’t really know much (read: anything) about ACFW. I woke up one morning (on the last day entries were accepted) with the feeling I should learn more about Christian organizations that supported authors. That day I found ACFW on the web and saw a notice about the contest. My thought was, why not enter? So I did and got it in just under the wire. I promptly forgot all about it until one day I received a phone call telling me I was a semi-finalist. That got me excited mainly because I thought it meant that maybe, just maybe, I was a writer. I still had no idea how important this contest is in the Christian writer community. That is, until I started to get congratulations from people I didn’t even know. I decided I had to go to the ACFW conference to check this thing out.

How important was this to me? That’s easy to answer. It helped me overcome self-doubt. The feedback I received from the judges encouraged me to improve the manuscript. It introduced me to the world of Christian authors, and through that, I learned a lot about how to get published. None of this would have happened if hadn’t submitted my work to the contest. I now enter as many contests as I can. And I would encourage every author to do the same.

What is your writing routine like: What time of day do you do your best writing? How much time (or how many words) do you aim for? Are there any practices (prayer, brainstorming, character interviews) you engage in before you start writing?
I’m sort of an undisciplined writer. The closest thing I have for a best time to write is, unfortunately, in the early morning hours. I’m talking 2 or 3 a.m. I can’t always stay up to write at that time even though it seems like my most creative part of the day. As a result, I write when I want to write. I also don’t set a specific amount of time or number of words as a goal unless I’m approaching a deadline. Most of the time I write as long as I have something to write, and then quit for the day. I pray all the time about my writing but I don’t always start writing with a prayer. I’m a pantser, so I just sit down to write knowing in a general sense where I want to go, but not necessarily how I’ll get there. As I’m writing, connecting the dots that get me from where the scene begins to where I want it to end, I’m often surprised with what comes up.

This book is the first in a series. What can we expect in the future?

Short answer: two other books in the trilogy. Longer answer: of course, I continue along in the world I constructed in the first novel, but the stakes keep growing. There are secrets in the first book that are slowly revealed in the remaining two. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the series so I can’t tell you what they are or how they are revealed, beyond saying there will be a lot of shocked readers along the way. I can say that the two main characters, Lazarus and Ricki, travel a bumpy road before the final scene of the trilogy.

You've also written a nonfiction book. How was the writing process different when you began writing fiction?
When I write nonfiction, I know exactly what I want to talk about before I start writing. I guess you’d say I am a nonfiction plotter. When I write fiction, it’s the exact opposite. I actually enjoy not knowing where things are going and watching the action develop while I’m writing.

Any parting words?
First, I am so excited about the way The Awakened weaves a Gospel message into a thriller without being preachy. The Gospel message is core to the plot. Second, I am one of the characters. Ricki (I had to make the character female for this plot to make sense) has gone through the same childhood trauma I did. Her nightmares are verbatim my nightmares. Her PTSD is my PTSD. And, her ending will be my ending. I really feel that by the end of the trilogy, her victory will be my victory.


Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near mountains in Pennsylvania. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between—preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at

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